England's selection choices for 1st India Test: Ali or Bess? Pope or Lawrence? Anderson or Broad?
While Sam Curran, Mark Wood and Jonny Bairstow have been rested for the first two test matches, Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Rory Burns are now available for selection.
Ali or Bess?
Moeen Ali's worst nightmare came true when he reached Sri Lanka for the 2-match test series. Ali was tested positive with COVID-19 after he suffered severe headache and fatigue upon landing. He had to be in quarantine for 14 days and was ruled out of the entire series.
This is the worst that can happen to a player, especially to one in a touring party. All the planning you do for a tour comes to nought in a moment. Add to that, the frustration of being cooped up in the four walls while seeing your teammates compete.
It must have been tough to subdue that hankering of getting out on the park for Ali, especially in the conditions of Sri Lanka where the ball was turning square on occasions.
That past him, it is quite certain that Ali will be back in the white flannels for England in the first test match against India at Chennai, starting on February 5. Ali last played a test match in Ashes at Birmingham in August 2019.
Moeen is just 19 scalps shy of 200 test wickets and if he can reach the milestone on this tour, England would have certainly done well. He is likely to replace Dom Bess in the role of the off spin bowling all-rounder.
To his credit, Bess did a great job in Sri Lanka and finished as the highest wicket taker for England with 12 scalps, including one 4-fer and one 5-fer despite not being at his best. England will still prefer the consistency of Jack Leach as the second spinner alongside Moeen Ali.
In fact, Ali averages over 40 with the bat in India!
Pope or Lawrence?
Ollie Pope looked a million dollars when he last played a test match against Pakistan at Southampton in August. However, he injured his shoulder in the field and had to undergo two surgeries which have kept him out of international cricket.
In his young 13-match test career, Pope's most impressive knocks include a 75 against New Zealand, 61 and 135 working South Africa, 91 against West Indies and 62 against Pakistan. More than the runs, it is his positive mindset and how assured he has looked at the crease is what gives England a lot of hope.
Pope was part of the touring party in Sri Lanka and featured in the practice match as well. It was clearly a case of England erring on the side of caution as he was not included in the playing XI. Pope is expected to replace another batting prodigy Dan Lawrence who scored at 42.67 in Sri Lanka.
Anderson or Broad?
The perennial question of who between James Anderson and Stuart Broad should play continues to linger in front of the England team management. In the ideal world, you would have liked to play both of them as both looked close to their best when given an opportunity recently.
Stuart Broad picked up three wickets in the first test match against Sri Lanka, bowling at an average of 11.33. James Anderson was even better in the second test match and picked up 6 wickets at an average of 7.67, including a 5-wicket haul.
How do you then decide between the two stalwarts. One, look at the pitch, and two, go through the record of the two players in India.
James Anderson has bowled a total of 309.5 overs in India in which he has picked up 26 wickets at an acceptable average of 33.46 and a strike rate of 71.50, with the best of 4/40. Stuart Broad, on the other hand, has bowled 165 overs in the country and has pocketed 10 wickets at an average of 53.90, with the best of 4/33.
Although Broad is bowling the best that he has over the years, Anderson looks like getting the nod ahead of him, especially given that the newly-appointed curator at the Chepauk Stadium in Chennai reckons that the strip will have something for the pace bowlers throughout day one.
England's probable XI - Rory Burns, Dominic Sibley, Zak Crawley, Joe Root (c), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (wk), Moeen Ali, Jofra Archer, James Anderson, Jack Leach
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